This last little while I’ve found myself saying “she’s just so bad” on more than few occasions when talking about my 2.5 year old daughter. As soon as the words come out of my mouth they don’t feel right. I know she’s not “bad” so what is it?
When she wants a toy, she takes it forcefully(usually from her brother). When she asks for something and doesn’t it get it, she has a tantrum. When she is given something she doesn’t like, she throws it. When she is told to do something she doesn’t want to do she screams NO! often following by flailing herself on the ground and kicking. She doesn’t want to wear something she will tear it off or kick and scream and prevent me from even dressing her.
Taking a step back and looking at what’s really going on, I can see the pattern. She’s nearly 3 and at a point in her life where she wants to feel some more control (don’t we all) but she hasn’t developed her vocabulary or emotions enough to ask for it or even understand what exactly it is she needs. In fact her emotional understanding and control will not fully develop until adulthood, and we know ourselves that even as adults sometimes this is a difficult thing to manage. I for one, am still actively working on improving my patience to this day. So its unfair to put expectations on our children to have the kind of emotional control we want them to have when we as adults still struggle with it as well.
This need for control is also what gives US this mindset that our children are “being bad” if they are not doing what they are told. Thinking I should be able to control her is only going to push her to feel more out of control and make her more upset and its also going to set myself up to feel like I am failing if I cant. It’s a broken cycle that isn’t helping anyone. But guess what, its not my job to control her. We as parents are not here to control our kids. We are here to guide them, teach them, love them, support them, keep them safe and healthy. We want them to grow up and become independent happy adults, but independence doesn’t magically appear when we turn into an adult, it starts building as toddlers.
These moments, when they show their inability to control their emotions, it forces us to control ours. A tantrum is upsetting for our children, but they can also be upsetting for us. We might feel helpless, embarrassed, out of control, frustrated or angry. BUT we could use this as an opportunity to grow ourselves. It can be an instant reminder to us, to be patient, to be kind, to be understanding and empathetic. Our children are our biggest teachers, if we see them that way. Its all about our mindset. Its our opportunity to take a step back and take note if their tantrum is triggering something in us. Why is this moment upsetting to ME? We have the ability to do that, they don’t yet. We also have the choice to change our perspective, reflect on these moments later. Once we realize that they are not trying to make the tantrum about us, we can stop making the tantrum about us too.
So what about them?
Instead of looking at the challenge our children are presenting us with, we can look at their strengths and start there. My girl is growing her independence, she’s unwavering in knowing what she wants in life and is willing to fight for it. She knows what makes her happy and what doesn’t. She wants to be in charge, perhaps she will use that to be in charge of something big in the future. These are great qualities for an adult who understands how to use them, we can help them gain this understanding. She wants more control, so I can create an environment where she has more and we still have solid boundaries since of course she is only 2.5 so needs some guidance in how to use that control.
Here are some ways I am giving her and her brother more control in our home
I am letting her pick out her outfits, even though that means she doesn’t always match for daycare and she wore a dress over her pyjamas to bed last night as a compromise. I control the important things, like keeping her warm enough (by wearing the pyjamas under her dress) and she is happy to be part of the choice in what she wore to bed last night.
Another way to do this is laying out three options of clothing choices for the day and letting them pick. (We are in the middle of winter here in Canada so she HAS to wear warm pants and socks, a long sleeve shirt and a sweater, so her choices will include the necessities)
Toddler friendly set up
Setting up the home so our kids can be more independent really helps for them thrive with this extra control over their lives. This can include a potty or potty seat that is easy for them to set up by themselves. Steps up to the sink to wash their hands. Low bed they can get into and out of themselves. Clothing in lower dresser drawers they can access. Bookshelves at their level so they can choose without your help. Toy chests or bins they can open on their own to get toys out of and then back into easily. Steps to access their toothbrush and tooth paste as well as the taps of the sink. Try and think of things that you do for your child now that with a few changes they could be doing themselves. (you can Google “Montessori home setup” for more ideas)
Art is a great way to let them express their selves and grow independence at the same time. It’s also GREAT practice for us if you want to work on letting go of control yourself. (Particularly if you really like to keep everything clean) Give them options, different paint colors, different brush choices, different paper colors and let them make a mess…whoops, I mean a master piece 😉 Just remember, they are the artist, there’s no “right way” to create it. Also art has so many positive aspects that we can deal with mess later. They are developing fine motor skills, creativity, social skills ( in my kids case they are doing it together), communication skills (asking for what the want). They are exploring colors and textures and the way they interact together. We are developing patience and the art of letting go. Plus its fun!
(Bonus: I turn my kids art into cards all the time)
Let them help make meals and pick out veggie and fruit sides to go with their dinners. A counter step is helpful for this so they can be at your level as well. When I am rushing and don’t really have the time to let her “prepare” it with me. I will still ask what she wants with her dinner and make it part of what I already planned to give her. To some extent anyway. If she picks a treat I may offer that an a dessert as long as she eats her dinner, or I might tell her we don’t have it and give her a few other options in its place. I’ve found she is much happier to eat everything else when she picked something on her plate herself.
So does this solve all tantrums? No of course not. This is still very much a work in progress in our home too as we are navigating our own growth and growth for our kids. We are building these boundaries at the same time that we want to open up their environment for them. This extra control in their lives will help them to have less of those moments where they melt down from the feeling of total loss of control. She will still get mad when she can’t have a toy because her brother was playing with it first. But its perhaps it is not quite like the end of the world when there’s still other choices she CAN make.
The biggest thing is giving them a little more control, and learning to let go of the need to control them. Let them feel what they feel and talk about those feelings when they calm down. Let them know its OK to feel mad, sad, angry, frustrated, jealous….(what ever it is they felt) and that you are there for them to help them find a way to express those feelings. Let them know we feel all those feelings too. Also; lets give ourselves permission to feel what we feel too, and reflect how WE want to express those feelings. Because lets face it; sometimes we just want to lay on floor kicking and screaming too. So lets find a better way, growing with them, together.
Want to dive deep into your mindset? Read more about the Mind Rebel Method below